Summer months bring high rates of burglaries - is your home secure?

The summer months are the perfect time for a vacation getaway. Unfortunately, they are also the perfect time for a home robbery. According to the FBI, July and August have the highest rates of burglaries. Better Business Bureau (BBB) is advising homeowners, who are looking to secure their property this summer, to do their research when picking a home security system.

According to an Academic Study of Home and Business Security by Temple University, the Electronic Security Association (ESA) says that homes without security systems are about three times more likely to be broken into than homes with security systems. (Actual statistic ranges from 2.2 times to 3.1 times, depending on the value of the home.) Losses due to burglary average $400 less in residences with security systems than homes without alarm systems.

Although no system makes your home completely burglar-proof, a home security system can reduce your chances of being burglarized and give you some peace of mind. In 2010, BBB received nearly 25,000 inquiries from customers asking about burglar alarm systems.

"It's important to investigate the purchase of a home security system with the same care you would any major purchase," said Patrick Bennett, Director of Community Relations of the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. "There are too many door-to-door salespeople selling home security systems out there that don't always have your best interest at heart."

BBB advises consumers to do the following when looking to invest in a home security system:

Choose a professional installer. The best home security system will accommodate your lifestyle and specific valuables you want protected. Carefully consider your security requirements and budget. You may also get recommendation from the insurance company that covers your home. Deal only with reputable firms and check out the company with BBB first.

Contact at least three companies before selecting an installer. Find out if they are properly licensed in your state and if they screen employees before hiring. Make sure to check with the ESA website for a list of member companies throughout the United States who have agreed to abide by the National Code of Ethics.

Ask about all charges up front. Prices for home security systems will vary, based on the level of protection and type of technology used, so be sure to compare apples-to-apples bids on similar systems. Do not forget to factor in the initial installation charge, as well as monthly monitoring charges. Also, talk to your insurance agent; some systems may qualify you for a discount on homeowner's premiums.

Know the ins and outs of your contract. If your alarm system will be monitored, either by your installing company or by a third-party monitoring center, find out the length of the contract. Typically, monitoring contracts are between two to five years in length. What is your recourse if you are not satisfied with the services provided? Can you cancel the contract? What are your rights if your monitoring company is purchased or acquired by another alarm company? If the alarm sounds, does the company first notify you or the police? How soon? What happens if you can't be reached? Does the company have a local security patrol car? Are there costs for false alarms--and if so, who pays? What's the early termination fee if you move? These are the types of questions you need to consider before you obligate yourself to a long-term contract.

Insist that the installer "walk" you through your system until you fully understand how it works. This will prevent the most common problem: false alarms. False alarms are an indicator of the quality of the alarm installation and user education. Ask for a complete inspection of your property and an itemized written estimate. Review the sales contract closely to ensure you understand exactly what equipment and protection you will be provided.

Beware of "Door Knockers." The BBB has received reports of "high pressure and fear selling practices." from door-to-door Home Alarm System salespeople. These salespeople were citing false police reports of recent burglaries that had not happened or are making claims that the resident's current alarm provider has gone out of business. Some home owners were misled into signing a contract for a new system, before canceling the contract on their existing system or they discovered that their current alarm provider was not out of business, resulting in their having to pay for two different alarm systems at the same time.

Additional advice:

* You do not have to let Door-to-Door salespeople into your home.

* If you are not interested, say "good bye" and shut the door."

* Individuals should provide credentials and identification.

* They should be able to display proof of a city-provided neighborhood solicitation permit.

* Ask if the company is local, regional, or national.

* Do not be misled by false police reports.

* Do not be pressured into signing a contract -- if the deal is good today it will be good tomorrow. Beware of claims of "limited offers" and that the company is ready to immediately install the system. Reputable companies let you compare bids and engage in a comprehensive review of your security needs.

* Be sure to completely read and understand any contract before signing, and remember your FTC, "right to cancel" a contract within 72 hours since it is signed at your home.

Published: Wed, Jul 13, 2011